That Kind of Guy

dino flowers

I went to a celebration of life for Jim last week.  I called him Jim, but he was also known as Jimmy or Pop.  Sometimes, when his wonderfully wacky wife instigated shenanigans, he was known as “Poor Jim.” Though it was used often, it was a momentary label.  Everyone knew how much he adored her, even in her wackiness.  Especially in her wackiness.  He was that kind of guy.

Twice, when I had propane problems, Jim volunteered to come over and relight my water heater.  I knew how to do it.  I had done it before.  He insisted, though.  He was a volunteer firefighter, and said he’d rather light it for me than have to come put out the fire if something went wrong.  He brought the family along, and we got to visit.  It was something we didn’t do nearly enough.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but he would have come to help out even if there was no danger at all.  You see, he was just that kind of guy.

Jim’s wife once got it in her head that we could get rich making a grown-up version of Underoos with celebrities instead of superheroes and cartoon characters.  With a little help from Google Images and some iron-on transfer paper, I created a “prototype.”  We laughed.  A lot.  Jim laughed at least as much as we did.  When his friends found out about it, they all laughed too.  Because he was that kind of guy with that kind of friends.

At the memorial service, when no one was looking, the grandkids’ toy dinosaurs managed to attack and destroy a flower arrangement.  We can’t really be sure how it happened, but it’s no wonder.  Those dinosaurs were herbivores, after all.  Grown-ups could have been mad.  Grandkids could have been in trouble.  Neither was the case, however.  The messy arrangement remained throughout the service.  One dinosaur stood guard while the other tried to sleep off an over indulgence in mums and greenery.  It was a welcome bit of humor in the midst of great sadness.  Pop would have laughed the most.  That’s what a grandpa does when he’s that kind of guy.

As all things do in this social media age, word of Jim’s death appeared on Facebook.  Several people offered condolences and prayers for the family, but one comment read, “I will pray for your community.”  This person understood that grief would not, could not, be contained within a family.  It would engulf an entire town.  That’s the way it is when you lose that kind of guy.

This Table

tgiving tableThis table. I could call it my table. It is, after all, in my house in my dining room. Calling it my table wouldn’t seem accurate though. It feels more like our table, a title earned after decades of meritorious service. It has hosted celebrations of all sorts: holidays, birthdays, general weekend gatherings, and at least one wedding. The base is worn bare from feet propped against it during countless conversations most often punctuated by coffee and cigarettes.

This table. It was the headquarters of my grandfather, the family patriarch. He sat at this table most of the time, rarely sitting in a comfy chair in the living room as one might expect a grandfather to do. From his throne-like spot he presided over dinners, barked orders for tasks he wanted done, created (and frequently revised) his pallbearer list, and doled out money for birthdays and school clothes. He left this table each day before dawn for work and returned to it each evening for dinner, 365 days a year, until he finally retired. When I think of my grandfather, he is sitting at this table.

This table. It was the site of countless delicious meals lovingly prepared by my grandmother. When I think of the meals eaten here, they blur into one gigantic memory. My favorite meals were fried chicken with rice and gravy, pancakes with syrup and bacon, and seafood fresh from the bay often caught with our own hands. There was always a cacophony of spirited conversation among the tribe: aunts and uncles, friends who might as well have been family, in-laws, outlaws, and my favorites, the cousins. When it was time to sit down, we each wanted to sit next to our grandmother. Wanting to avoid the hurt feelings sure to come, she always said, “I’ll sit across from you so I can see your pretty faces.” It always worked, but she rarely sat down, at least not until everyone else was almost finished. Her place was taking care of people at the table rather than sitting down herself.

This table. It was once adorned in green shamrocks for a St. Patrick’s Day wedding celebration when my grandfather remarried after my grandmother’s death. That joyous occasion brought new aunts, new uncles, new cousins, and of course, a new grandmother. It was a happy time, but I wasn’t sure how to fit someone new into my idea of “grandmother.” I shouldn’t have worried. Once, in the throes of teenage angst, I ran away from home. Sort of. I wasn’t planning on staying gone, and I wasn’t even trying to hide. I just wanted to be someplace else for a little while. It took my mother and my boyfriend about five minutes to figure out where I was, and then they started calling me (remember, no cell phones). I sat at this table with my grandfather in his usual spot, phone ringing, wishing there was just one person who could “get” me. My grandfather thought I was being ridiculous and told me to go home. But New Grandmother… she got it! She yelled at my grandfather, well, at least as close as she ever came to yelling, and told him to let me be. Few people talked back to my grandfather, but she did, at least that day. Which was really all I needed. That and for that incessant ringing to stop. So, I got back in my car and went home assured that at least one person other than myself had at some point been a teenage girl trying to figure it all out.

This table. It has been passed down twice since then, and each passing brings new family, new friends, new conversations, new memories. Like all of us, it shows a little wear and tear: coffee stains, cigarette burns, a scratch or two or more. And as is true for all of us, these nicks and dings just add to its character. It is as much a part of this family as any human person, and in a few days, we will gather again to celebrate. We will celebrate our blessings.  We will celebrate each other.   At this table.